Explorer/Storm Chaser/Adventurer - Host of the “Angry Planet” TV show
I’m all over the map, one day I might be in the middle of a hurricane like Sandy, Or Katrina, then a few days later, I might be giving a presentation at a school or museum, or doing an appearance on TV.
What is a typical day like for you?
For me, there are no “typical days”. Usually, I’m planning trips & expeditions, or I’m out in the field, or back home, editing the photos and video that I’ve captured. There have been years when I’ve spent over 200 days of the year out travelling. I’m all over the map, one day I might be in the middle of a hurricane like Sandy, or Katrina, then a few days later, I might be giving a presentation at a school or museum, or doing an appearance on TV.
What is the most enjoyable part of your job?
I get to see Mother Nature at its most extreme. Witnessing the awesome power of tornadoes, hurricanes, forest fires, volcanoes and avalanches is something I live for. It’s more of a lifestyle than a job. The travel aspect is a lot of fun too. I’ve been to over 40 countries on all 7 continents.
What is the least enjoyable part of your job?
Driving for weeks on end, usually across boring places like Kansas and Oklahoma, eating questionable restaurant food and staying in bad hotels. Sometimes we have to go long stretches with little or no sleep. It grinds me down being away from home and my wife so much.
Explain the path you took to get to this job (education, internships, etc.).
It has been a winding path. My education is in audio engineering, so I spent years building and maintaining some of the biggest recording studios in North America. One year, I took my vacation time and went storm chasing and I was hooked ever since. Each year after that, I would do more and more of it until I eventually had to quit a job I liked to do what I really loved.
Who or what was the greatest influence that set you on this path?
When I was growing up, my 2 heroes were ocean explorer Jacques Cousteau and Indiana Jones. As I got older, I started to get more and more influenced by nature itself. There is nothing I love more than witnessing firsthand, the raw power of nature. It is awe inspiring and humbling, all at the same time.
What advice would you give others seeking a similar job?
There are only a small handful of storm chasers who actually make a living at it. The vast majority do it as a hobby. It gets very expensive when you add up the gas, food, hotels, and equipment. My best suggestion would be to study as much meteorology as you can. Learn from others and always be thinking about the next way to improve. Don’t compete with other people, the only person you should be competing against is yourself.
How does your job make a difference?
When we’re out on a tornado chase, if we spot a dangerous storm, we will immediately contact the National Weather Service or Environment Canada to report what we’re seeing. They can then issue tornado warnings for any towns that are in the path of the storm, once the locals get the warnings, they can take shelter and head to the basement. Over the years, we’ll never know how many lives have been saved.
Also, there have been quite a few times when we’ve been the first on the scene after a disaster. If this happens, we set down our cameras and start helping out however we can. This happened during the devastating EF-5 tornado that struck Joplin, Missouri on May 22nd, 2011. There were about a dozen 18-wheelers flipped on the highway when we pulled up. The town looked a bomb had gone off. I ended up running from one overturned vehicle to another, checking to see how badly the drivers were injured.
How do you use science, math and technology in your job?
In order to chase tornadoes, we have to predict where they are going to be while the sky is still blue, sometimes a couple of days in advance! To do this, we have to study raw weather data, looking at computer-generated forecast models, satellite images and radar data. I need to build a 3-D picture in my mind of what the atmosphere is doing in order to be in the right place at the right time.
We are helped by the technology that I have crammed into my storm chase vehicle which includes laptop computers, cameras, GPS systems, VHF radios and other gadgets that we use to gather information and plan our chase strategy.
Is there one course you wish you had taken in high school but didn’t? Why?
I always wished that I’d taken some physics courses. I love the concepts, the laws of nature, but I was intimidated by the math involved. If I had the chance to go back and do it all over again, I would certainly add that.
What makes this job right for you?
Storm chasing seems like the kind of job description that a 12 year old kid would come up with, but I guess I just never grew up. The reality is that if you love to do something, and work really hard at it, you can turn almost anything into a career. I get to travel the world, photograph storms, volcanoes and forest fires...AND be seen on TV all over the world. It is a lot of hard work, and most of the time it is not that exciting, but on the days that it is, I have the best job in the world.
What's the most bizarre or silliest thing you’ve ever done in this job?
I’ve done a lot of weird things while filming the Angry Planet TV show, including:
Skiing down a sand dune in the Sahara desert Wrestling an Anaconda in Venezuela, trying to eat a 72 ounce steak in Texas while on a storm chase (I couldn’t finish it). I once set foot on a brand new volcanic island that had recently erupted out of the South Pacific, near Tonga. We had to swim ashore, and when the TV camera was about to start rolling, I realized that my clothes were still back on the boat. Here I was, on the newest land on Earth with nothing on but my sandals, a life jacket and my underwear! The show must go on. I actually got paid to have my wedding ceremony on the crater’s edge of an exploding volcano. If that’s not bizarre, I don’t know what is.
What activities do you like to do outside of work?
My work is my hobby, so I spend a lot of time on it, but I also like to spend time with my wife and our 2 dogs. I’ve also been a musician for years, so it’s always fun to get out and join up with some of my musician friends and bang out some songs. I usually play bass guitar, but I can also play drums and Australian digeridoo.
You just won $10 million! What’s the first thing you’d do?
One of my goals is to visit 100 countries. If I had $10 million, I would hop on a plane and just keep going. Even though I’ve seen so much of the world, there is still a LOT more out there, waiting to be discovered.